On a conference call sponsored by Families USA and HCAN, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) urged Democrats to pass the reconciliation bill of fixes to the health care law without any amendments or additions, so it can go directly to the President for his signature. When challenged on the likelihood of that happening, given the probability of small points of order from Republicans knocking out pieces of the bill, Harkin dismissed that as speculative.
“If any amendment passes, the bill has to go back to the House,” Harkin said, adding that this would give opponents the opportunity to delay and kill the bill, which includes fixes to elements of the health care policy and a sweeping change to the administering of student loans. “A vote for any amendment is a vote against reform” of the health care and student loan industries, he said.
There doesn’t seem to be any possibility of Democrats “going wobbly in the knees” and voting for Republican amendments, Harkin confirmed, even those as transparently political as denying taxpayer-funded Viagra for sex offenders, an amendment that Tom Coburn has offered. Harkin “made a special plea for discipline and unity” at yesterday’s caucus lunch.
However, Harkin and the Democrats have little control over the expected points of order that will be raised by Republicans to the parliamentarian. If they succeed in getting the parliamentarian to agree that any line of text in the reconciliation bill violates the Byrd rule, the entire bill would have to go back to the House for another vote. Max Baucus called this likely yesterday. If the bill is likely to go back to the House anyway, I asked Harkin, why the stringency on all the amendments, even amendments that could potentially improve the bill and would have no problem disrupting the vote in the House – an amendment on the insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption, for example, which got over 400 votes over there?
“I haven’t speculated on what the parliamentarian may find,” Harkin responded. “We don’t know that yet. So I don’t know the answer to that question. The Budget Committee said we have a clean bill. So there you go.” He was hopeful that there would be no points of order, and remained steadfast in arguing for no amendments.
One amendment many progressives would like to see made at this stage, under majority-vote rules, is the public option. Harkin said he supports it and believes it would soon come to pass, but “If the public option is offered I will vote against it, because the greater good is getting this bill passed.” He promised that, once this bill is complete, he would pick up proposals to enact the public option “immediately.” He even floated using a future reconciliation process to enact it, perhaps as soon as this year under the next budget, “because as you know it saves a lot of money.”
It seems that Harkin worries about having to get 216 votes in the House again for anything that isn’t merely a technical change, and he wants to preserve the signature piece of this reconciliation bill, the student loan reform, which came out of the Senate HELP Committee that he chairs.
As to the process: Harkin said that voting should start around 5:00pm today on the series of amendments to the reconciliation bill. He expected four votes every hour in the “vote-a-rama” process. “We could be here all night tonight and into tomorrow, he said. Democrats were conferring with the parliamentarian over the validity of certain amendments from Republicans which appear to violate the Byrd rule (Bob Bennett offered one, for example, on DC’s same-sex marriage law). He hoped the parliamentarian would raise a point of order on those dilatory amendments and get them thrown out before a vote.
At the end of the call, Harkin made a statement that probably reflects Democrats’ views as we come to the end of this process.
“Let’s get this over with.”
UPDATE: In case you’re interested, on the flip I’ll throw a list of all the amendments offered by Republicans so far. Not all of these are pending (which means they’ll get a vote).
36 amendments filed as of 11:20AM
#3553 — To repeal the government takeover of health care. (Vitter)
#3554 — Prohibiting use of funds to fund the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). (Vitter)
#3556 — To reduce the cost of providing federally funded prescription drugs by eliminating fraudulent payments and prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists for drugs intended to induce abortion. (Coburn)
#3557 — To require that each new bureaucrat added to any department or agency of the Federal Government for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act be offset by a reduction of 1 existing bureaucrat at such department or agency. (Coburn)
#3558 — To revoke the powers given the Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (Coburn)
#3559 — To help the President keep his promise that Americans who like the health care coverage they have now can keep it. (Coburn)
#3560 — To implement policies from the President’s proposal to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid and save taxpayer dollars.
#3561 — To ensure nondiscrimination on abortion and respect for rights of conscience. (Coburn)
#3562 — To exempt class ! medical devices from taxation under the excise tax on medical device manufacturers. (Coburn)
#3563 — To repeal the new $375 million program directing the very same Federal Government that has amassed a $12 trillion debt to lecture Americans about financial responsibility. (Coburn)
#3564 — To make sure the President, Cabinet Members, all White House senior staff and Congressional Committee and Leadership staff are purchasing health insurance through the health insurance exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (Grassley)
#3565 — To exclude devices for persons with disabilities from the medical device tax. (Inhofe)
#3566 — To require all Members of Congress to read a bill prior to casting on a vote on the bill. (Coburn)
#3567 — To prevent Medicare from being used for new entitlements and to use Medicare savings to save Medicare. (Gregg)
#3568 — To protect the democratic process and the right of the people of the District of Columbia to define marriage. (Bennett)
#3569 — To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to ensure Medicare beneficiary access to physicians, eliminate sweetheart deals for frontier States, and ensure equitable reimbursement under the Medicare program for all rural states. (Grassley)
#3570 — To eliminate the sweetheart deals for Tennessee, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Connecticut, and frontier States. (McCain)
#3571 — To allow individuals 30 and over to enroll in the catastrophic plan if they are not eligible for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions through the Exchange. (Collins)
#3572 — To provide for an assessment of Medicare cost-intensive diseases and conditions. (Collins)
#3573 — To ensure more timely access to home health services for Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare program by allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse midwives to order home health services. (Collins)
#3574 — To preserve student choice in higher education loans. (LeMieux)
#3575 — To preserve student choice in higher education loans. (LeMieux)
#3576 — To address judicial review. (McCain)
#3577 — To protect Medicare beneficiary access to hospital care in rural areas from recommendations by the Independent Payment Advisory Board. (Roberts)
#3578 — To protect Medicare beneficiary access to health care from recommendations by the Independent Payment Advisory Board. (Roberts)
#3579 — To strike the medical device tax. (Roberts)
#3580 — To repeal the limitation on health flexible spending arrangements under cafeteria plans. (Roberts)
#3581 — To repeal the limitation on deductions for over-the-counter medicine. (Roberts)
#3582 — To ensure that Americans can keep the coverage they have by keeping premiums affordable. (Barrasso)
#3583 — Ensuring that the self-employed are eligible for the transitional small business tax credit. (Snowe)
#3584 — Preempt States from subsequently adopting their own employer mandate legislation that would target small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. (Snowe)
#3585 — Open plans providing catastrophic coverage to all and allow premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions to be allowed for that coverage. (Snowe)
#3586 — To enroll Members of Congress in the Medicaid program. (LeMieux)
#3587 — To strike provisions relating to payments for imaging services. (Brownback)
#3588 — To exclude pediatric devices and devices for persons with disabilities from the medical device tax. (Inhofe)
#3589 — To provide expansion States with a transitional reduced State share for coverage of parents under Medicaid. (Snowe)